The title of this post is misleading, because this fennel (the bronze form of common fennel, Foeniculum vulgare) was grown ornamentally. Its dramatic feathery fronds kept their bronze color all summer, and started turning green as the weather got colder. When I pulled this out of the veggie bed, it had a foot-long slender taproot and additional trailing roots almost two feet long. This species of fennel does not form a bulb, and its stalks are as fibrous as sugar cane. The fronds were strongly anise-scented, so I thought I would try to do something with them in the kitchen.
This recipe caught my eye, but it mutated into something quite different by the time I got done with it. First, no fennel bulb, so no braised fennel. Next, sea bass for a family weeknight supper? Nope. My kids need to turn up their noses at something just a little less pricey. So catfish fillets instead. Then, anchovy paste, but no capers? That's strangely deficient. So I substituted a tin of anchovies in olive oil, rolled around capers. Likewise, onions, but no garlic? Hmm, I don't think so. So I turned this into a full puttanesca by starting with onions in olive oil, adding diced tomatoes (canned worked just fine), mashing the anchovies and capers into them, and cooking the sauce down for about ten minutes. Then slivers of a couple of fat cloves of garlic were added, along with a generous sprinkle of red pepper flakes and salt, with the sauce left to cook down some more. The catfish fillets were dredged in salt-and-peppered flour, and placed in the skillet, with the sauce scooched aside, to cook for four minutes on each side with the skillet covered. A couple of fronds of the fennel were placed on top of the fish, and turned a rich dark green after cooking, but didn't contribute any detectable flavor or aroma to the dish.
My husband, who doesn't like cooked fish (for the most part, I'm with him, my ideal fish dish being a sashimi-grade catch, passed quickly over a candle flame, but I grant special dispensation for catfish and, on special occasions, sea bass), opted out in favor of frozen pizza, and my son, who doesn't like anything other than p.b. sandwiches and pizza, joined him. My eleven-year-old had a bit of both, and my five-year-old had seconds, then thirds, of Mom's new favorite fish dish.